Parents and teachers frequently hear about school efforts to impact children’s reading “fluency.” That target may sound good. However, “fluency“ typically means the number of words the child reads accurately each minute. Speed and accuracy are easy to count. However, they are not central to the development of enjoyable, lifelong reading, which is a rare emphasis in many schools.
For those who do care about lifelong reading and learning, reading speed and accuracy are low priorities. Among the key qualities that are valuable targets for teaching children to become eager, daily readers, expressions of emotion when reading stands out. Stress, Pitch, and Juncture are what make reading sound like actual human speech, rich with personal meaning. That emotional connection increases the likelihood that new readers will want to read more and better, which is critical to ongoing growth. That is why lively reading aloud of books to children is so important.
In reading aloud, STRESS indicates the amount of volume for a phrase or word used in expressing the personal importance or meaning of a word or phrase. Whispering or other changes in volume are an attention getter for new readers.
PITCH is about raising or lowering the word’s musical note when saying a word, so that it carries emotion or emphasis. When a character says, “You WHAT!?”, it’s an appropriate response to his child’s dropping jewelry down the toilet. That “what” is read closer to a scream than in any simple statement.
Reading with thoughtful JUNCTURE is about spacing and pauses, changing speech to carry importance and/or immediacy: “STOP….hitting…Marie!” or “Look!… A hummingbird!”
These three vocal qualities are critical when reading to those learning to read! In combination, they put spirit and life into printed language, illustrating for new readers the power of the written word .
The old adage goes, “What gets measured gets done!” Therefore, we don’t want those who are struggling with reading to just read faster or to avoid stumbling on words they actually might not understand. We want them to read in a manner that expresses meaning for them, that sounds like lively, human speech, that sounds like we actually talk to others.
Attention and coaching for better reading must be focused upon helping children understand and adopt emotionally rich expression in their own reading, to themselves and to others.
It would be better if children first learn to read in a manner that reflects a full and enjoyable understanding of what they are saying. That leads to an eagerness on the part of children to read more, and to share more about what they read, conversing animatedly about their latest books with loved ones, enriching everyone’s lives!
That genuine energy in reading book language can launch children’s own inquiries, inspire heartfelt questions and fulfilling involvement, and magnify the personal potentials of their reading.
Let’s never forget that the most important purpose of developing literacy is it’s promise in supporting personal understanding and lifelong learning, not merely on improving grade level reading scores for school.